CEOs You Should Know: Bob Niemiec CEO of Twisthink

Twisthink’s Managing Partner, Bob Niemiec, had the opportunity to join Phil Tower on iHeart Radio’s CEOs You Should Know podcast.




Twisthink’s Managing Partner, Bob Niemiec, had the opportunity to join Phil Tower on iHeart Radio’s CEOs You Should Know podcast.



[00:00:00] Bob Niemiec: Our previous 20 years have been. A great blessing, but as we look forward to the next 20 and the impact that we’re positioning ourselves to make, I’ve never been more excited for what lies ahead for our firm and for the great city of Grand Rapids. Hi, welcome.

[00:00:20] Phil Tower: It’s another edition of CEOs you should know from iHeart Radio.

And hopefully by now, you know I’m Phil Tower. I’ve been your host. It’s been an honor to be with you on every one of these CEOs you should know. Features. We do this as a part of iHeart Media’s commitment to the communities we serve, specifically West Michigan in this case. And we’ve recently introduced this feature, CEOs you should know actually, in early of 2022, a podcast and b.

Feature that profiles the businesses that drive our original economy. CEOs and leaders, including these episodes, represent all kinds of local, large international firms because they all play a part. And this is the cool thing in driving our diverse and thriving business community. And we have a guy who I’ve already promised.

I’m not gonna call him CEO, he is Managing Partner, co-founder. Is that fair to say? That’s fair to say. Yeah. Yeah. Of Twist. Think. His name is Bob Niemiec. He’s got a voice for podcasting and radio. He’s already warned me of that, it’s great to have you here and welcome to CEOs you should know, you know?

Thank you,

[00:01:25] Bob Niemiec: Phil. It’s good to be here. And yes, I’ve uh, I’ve been told in our open office that I have a booming. Over the years, and I’ll do my best to, uh, guard that, but also share what, uh, whatever I can with your audience.

[00:01:43] Phil Tower: So we typically start these conversations, learning a little bit about you, and that’s probably the most uncomfortable part.

But I, again, some people like talking about their background. You are a Michigan native, is that fair to say? Correct. Born. Born

[00:01:56] Bob Niemiec: and raise and raised in the Detroit area. Okay. Went to university at Michigan. Way in the north and, uh, University of Michigan here in Ann Arbor. And, uh, found myself post, uh, my undergrad landing in West Michigan working in the automotive industry, which I did for.

Uh, 17 years, both in North America and in Europe.

[00:02:20] Phil Tower: You worked for

[00:02:20] Bob Niemiec: Prince Corporation. I worked for Prince Corporation, which was then acquired by Johnson Controls and had the benefit of being a part of those two great companies. And then, uh, left, uh, the latter in 2000 and was a part of the team that launched Twist.

Think in 2000 and.

[00:02:41] Phil Tower: Which is what we’re gonna be talking about. But I want to back up to, you’re in Detroit, you decide to go to college in Houghton, Michigan, which is a long way away. Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . Did you know? I’m assuming you, you knew you had an interest in a, and a passion for engineering and tech then, Is that safe to say?


[00:02:59] Bob Niemiec: that’s safe to say. My father was a chemical engineer, so Okay. He, It was in the dna. It was in the DNA and he inspired me in the world of engineering and uh, I had a heart for ice hockey. Okay. And so, uh, he was a graduate, uh, of the University of Michigan. And I found myself, uh, wanting to, uh, venture North 10 hours in a vehicle to experience, uh, really the, the beauty and the, the challenge of that university in the key A and, and, uh, super thankful for that experience.

Mm-hmm. , I found my bride there. Yes. That’s always a plus, Uh, which made it, uh, even better. And, uh, when, uh, I graduated from Tech, I had, I had co-oped during a, a General Motors during my University Trek, but when I graduated from a tech, I, uh, I learned of this company in West Michigan. Mm-hmm. , and I thought, Wow.

I’m engaged to be married. I’m gonna go plant a flag in, uh, West Michigan and see what that experience is like. And I’ve never looked back and cherish, uh, the

[00:04:10] Phil Tower: moment. And this was several decades ago. We, we we’re not gonna age Bob on, on this conversation, but several decades ago and. . Holy cow. Bob. Has West Michigan changed in 30 years and, and all for the better?

I think you and I would probably most people agreed. Would agree. Agreed. Agreed. Your background though influenced, uh, in a real way. Your startup of, of Twist think mm-hmm. . And I understand there’s an interesting story there. Can you, obviously we need to know about Twist think, but tell me why your background was instrumental there.


[00:04:45] Bob Niemiec: uh, being trained in the world of engineering was helpful, but to me upon, uh, joining uh, Prince Corporation and getting exposed to the talent of design industrial designers by training and. Uh, the creative, uh, skills, the kind of quote unquote the creative right brain connected to, uh, the engineering organization.

Um, and together solving, uh, hard problems and innovating almost quite naturally was a training ground to. 17 years later being a part of a small team that launched this company called Twist Think, which as its unique selling proposition, is all around one team with very different skills embedded into it.

So we’re talking about, again, the creative right brain, uh, industrial design, strategy minded, uh, leaders and individuals. Uh, running alongside of what we would say broadly as technology minded folks, which in our world would be computer science and electrical engineering. And, uh, in today’s, uh, vocation algorithm and AI and data minded folks.

Mm-hmm. those personas being a part of one. Was, uh, was a, uh, unique selling proposition in 2001 when we set sale, and here we are 21 years later. And I would still argue it is part of our unique. Uh, offering that we deliver, uh, to our clients. What’s maybe changed a little bit over the years is we’re not solely automotive focused in our market attention and market impact.

We, we are, uh, we are engaged in several different markets as we seek to help companies who are trying to run faster in this world of digital or digital transformation.

[00:06:50] Phil Tower: And innovation is really the, the secret ingredient in that, because you can have the best technical people in the world, but if they can’t dream, if they can’t innovate, Bob Yeah,

[00:06:59] Bob Niemiec: you, you, you got it.

Phil. If they can’t innovate and the power of innovation is having, Different perspectives. Mm-hmm. looking at the same problem together. So engineers on their own aren’t going to get to, uh, the level that perhaps, uh, they could if they were being challenged and if they were locking arms with the skill of design.

And again, I’m an engineer so I get that space quite comfortably, but my journey now going on 40 years post, uh, my under. Is, uh, most organizations are not aware of the power of design design thinking. There’s a process Phil called Human centered Design. That’s a process that organizations can embrace as they run after innovation excellence.

Just like most organizations embrace the process of lean manufacturing to run after operational.

[00:08:02] Phil Tower: So twist think doesn’t make things, You sell ideas and innovation to companies that need to really have that warp speed ahead of their competitors and really to almost be a benchmark for others in their industry.

Is that fair

[00:08:18] Bob Niemiec: enough to say that that’s a fair, uh, fair comment. I think, you know, many times we would liken ourselves to a trusted mountain guide. If you ever go hiking out in the Tetons, you don’t want to go alone. No. You wanna guide. Who can keep you safe as you trek to, uh, the Grand Teton, uh, Summit. And in a sense, that’s our role as organizations wrestle with.

Hey, we’ve been in this market dominating for 20 years, but we see things changing. We see technology changing our market. What’s next for us? Those organizations are, uh, the firms that we’re looking to serve and then help answer that challenging question of what’s next, creating a digital strategy. And then because of our, uh, experience and team in the, uh, engineering.

Uh, we also then help them convert or create the solution. So digital strategy, digital solution is the battle cry, uh, of the team of 60 that I, uh, get to represent on this, uh, podcast this morning.

[00:09:24] Phil Tower: That is an incredible honor and more importantly, Not every business startup has the kind of success you had right off the bat.

You guys landed Whirlpool as your first client. Yep. Yeah. Can you, for our listeners, cuz I think a lot of people are still wondering how Twist Think works and partners with companies. So just give us the backstory and what happened with. Twist, Think very early on. And Whirlpool, how did they, they came to you and they said, Bob and team, we need this

[00:09:52] Bob Niemiec: Uhhuh fill us in.

Well, it’s all the story and I, and I’m super, uh, proud to say on behalf of the work of our team, there’s still a client today that’s incredible in the, in the world of service. When you can feel like you’re a part of your client’s team too, that’s where you find greater meaning and reward in the heavy lifting that you.

In, uh, running alongside of a whirlpool or any of our clients. But the short story, the foot in the door opportunity that allowed us to turn our lights on had to do with our experience in the automotive industry from a design perspective. And they, you know, kudos to the leadership of Whirlpool back in 2001, 2002.

They were intrigued with. Fresh eyes approach might, uh, uh, an organization that had heavy, uh, automotive experience bring to the Whirlpool portfolio. And yeah, there’s a litany of products that we then designed. Both the kind of the visual brand language, the look and the feel of, uh, those products were designed by twist, Think in service to our, uh, our client Whirlpool.

And as the relationship has, uh, ebbed and flowed over the years, we’ve, uh, we’ve found ourself helping, quite honestly, helping Whirlpool accelerate their own run into the digital. So Whirlpool now has a portfolio of products that are, uh, developed and, and capable of being connected within a home wifi and creating new user experiences, whether it be, uh, a stove top or an oven, or a washer and a dryer.

Those products now have an element of connectivity to them, and it was our. Kind of, uh, fingerprints are all over, uh, that kind of

[00:11:55] Phil Tower: effort too. You know, it’s funny, and I have no idea if you guys had anything to do with this, but we own two Whirlpool appliances, washer and dryer. They’re great. Do wet washer and dryer.

I, I don’t know. Uh, but they are, they’re gun metal gray. Yeah. I mean, they are beautiful looking from a design perspective. Of course, all touch panel and. Somewhere along the line, Bob, the whole idea that an appliance could be more than just this box that sat somewhere in our house happened. Is that, Am I getting close to that human design thing?


[00:12:30] Bob Niemiec: right on to, uh, human-centered design. Yeah. And creating products that are beautiful. So much so that back in the day when I was a kid in. Our washer and dryer was in the basement and had a 25 wat light bulb hanging over it. , I think everybody’s was. Yeah. And today, yeah. As you see how homes are, uh, laid out, the washer and dryer are many times the centerpiece of the main floor.

And you’re not ashamed for people to see your gun, metal washer or dryer. Uh, what that looks like off the kitchen in, uh, the laundry room. They are,

[00:13:08] Phil Tower: They’re right off the

[00:13:09] Bob Niemiec: kitchen. Yeah. It’s evolved and that’s how design thinking can create experiences that customers value. That duet, washer and dryer was a game changer.

For Whirlpool. Yeah. In, uh, 2005, 2006, and

[00:13:24] Phil Tower: the rest of the industry obviously followed, which is, which is where you want to be as an industry leader like Whirlpool. And the exciting thing about that is going back to, I don’t know how many of our listeners caught this. You had this appliance company and then you’ve got that automotive design mindset.

You marry those two and magic happened for sure, which is really cool. And I, I think that’s what so many company leaders are striving for is how do we just get outside of our heads? Because when you are too insulated, uh, which happens in a lot of companies, you miss the opportunity for innovation for.

For those holy cow ideas that can really change a company’s future. It’s what Steve Jobs did with Apple. I mean, it’s just, you know, that’s exciting.

[00:14:10] Bob Niemiec: And Jobs is a good example. And I, I just wanna say, getting out of, of your heads, you’re speaking the language of human centered design as a process. Because that process is all about, Hey, let’s get in the heads of your stakeholders, your customers, Let’s underst.

Their pain points, their desires, and you use that to then influence the product roadmap for anything. It could be a widget, like a washer or a dryer. It could be a service, right? Coming from a bank or an accounting firm. The process of H C D is how you drive innovative, so,

[00:14:49] Phil Tower: You’re hearing Bob Neek. Bob is the managing partner for Twist Think.

He’s with us on this edition of CEOs You should know from iHeartRadio as we kind of unpack the story of Twist, Think, and what a dynamic story it is. The real story behind the story is that as we are recording this podcast and broadcast that you’ll hear on all of the iHeartRadio stations here in West Michigan.

Twist think is preparing to move from Holland to downtown Grand Rapids. Interesting thing you are gonna be moving into the Doug Meyer Medical Innovation Building. We also had BA Health, Dr. Anthony Chang on a previous edition of ceo. No, he’ll be your, your new neighbor. And that, uh, building, which is a beautiful speaking of design building.

Right here in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. Bob, I’m sure a lot of people are curious with the success you’ve had, you’re in Holland, what drove that decision to move to

[00:15:47] Bob Niemiec: downtown gr? Mm-hmm. Great question. And just a shout out to Ban Team Banff and Dr. Anthony and, and, uh, the rest of the team there.

We’re excited to be able to call them neighbors Yeah. For the next 90 years. And our move, uh, really comes, uh, After, uh, I would say a strategic initiative of a couple of years looking at a variety of spaces in Grand Rapids as our business continues to grow as we double in scale by 2025. Certainly like everyone else, talent is uh, a key driver to growth in today’s economy.

Um, and, uh, one step led to another. And, you know, half of our team today is basing Grand Rapids making the commute to Holland, which has served us well for our first 20 years. Mm-hmm. . But as we look forward and we see the demands and the opportunities for digital growth, we felt like repositioning the business into this economy and this community.

Understanding what’s going on, not just in healthcare or along the medical mile. And I think, you know, part of the excitement of our going into that space is yes, we’ll be closer to what’s going on in the healthcare arena, which today is being disrupted by digital transformation. So thank you. Got a hand in that space.

Yeah. But I think the other unique, unique aspect of our presence in that building is, uh, we’re not just, he. We’re mobility, we’re industrial. McKinsey just, uh, this week, uh, released a report that says by 2025, there’ll be 50 billion smart devices connected to a cloud just in the industrial arena alone. And, uh, that’s staggering.

And uh, you know, even if they’re, even if they’re off by 50, There’s still a lot of, uh, need in today’s economy for more data, Uh, the deployment of AI to, uh, in a, in a sense accelerate, uh, intelligence, uh, automation, robotics, digital twinning. These are, these are, uh, opportunities that await us, not just industrial, but in healthcare.

And for us, the third market of focus is, And, uh, so can you just,

[00:18:14] Phil Tower: I’m sorry to interrupt. Can you kind of dive into that idea of mobility a little bit more? Because I think a lot of our listeners are wondering, Okay, is that cars, is it walking, Is it mobility from moving things and people from one place to another?

Can you just

[00:18:29] Bob Niemiec: elaborate on that? Yeah. We’re being, you know, we’re being selective in using that word. Over the word we we’re all too familiar with in terms of automotive because right. The automotive industry, as we’ve known it, is changing and it’s changing quite rapidly because of technology, because of connectivity.

And so when you see OEMs looking at whether it be, uh, bicycles or scooters or different ways to move people even through the air, that is a space that we believe. Uh, we have a right to, uh, compete in and lead in. So that’s where we’re focused. But just back to Grand Rapids for a moment, you know, uh, certainly, uh, a lot of respect goes to the community for this master plan of what’s occurring downtown.

Yeah. And so when, when we caught wind of the Grand Rapids Innovation Park and the vision for what that park is going to mean, Certainly, uh, a great university like MSU is a, is a part of the fabric of, uh, that innovation park, but so are great companies like bff as you cited, Pergo, like we’ve all seen go up.

Mm-hmm. , I think we felt like. Uh, we’ve earned a right to have a positive influence in an innovation park. So, although in some ways, you know, we could lean on how we’ve always done it and remain in the same safe place, we’re trying to break out of that for the growth of the business and the impact that we desire to make, not just in the region, but in the state and globally.

This will not be our last. We have plans for other locations on our roadmap in the next few years, and we’re excited to, uh, bring the team to, uh, downtown, uh, Grand Rapids. And then we’re excited to see, uh, the rest of the strategy unfold. Yeah.

[00:20:32] Phil Tower: You know, and it’s amazing. As you said, you came here some 40 years ago, worked for the Prince Corporation, then Johnson Controls, you’ve been all over the world.

Uh, this community, both Holland and Grand Rapid. It’s a greater West Michigan region. Yeah. Unbelievable transformation. There’s never been, I tell young college students that I’m, there’s never been a more exciting time Yeah. To live and work in this community. And that’s gotta be, I mean, that’s really gotta get your team stoked, but at, at the same time, you’ve got this.

Unbelievable opportunity with human centered design and medicine. If there’s ever an industry that still needs more disruption, Bob Neic, it’s medicine. Would you not

[00:21:15] Bob Niemiec: agree? For sure. We, we all know that and, and we all see that in our day to day life and, and there’s opportunity to do great good with digital as the, as the foundation in he.

Yeah. Whether it be to advance, uh, the domain of self care, which is getting a lot of attention today. Mm-hmm. , I think, you know, I, I, I certainly rally behind the battle cry coming from Pergo about how do we create Grand Rapids to becoming the Silicon Valley of self care. Hmm. Where we’re known on the. Coast to coast as, uh, being capable and, uh, experience in bringing connectivity and AI and data, data, again, being thrown around as the oil of today’s economy.

How do we, how do we use all of that in a way that really drives, uh, impact in, uh, in healthcare? I think, uh, uh, we look forward to that. We’ve been in healthcare, Striker, another Michigan company. Has been a client of ours for, I wanna say 18 of the 21 years. So we’re, well, we have some, uh, experience and exposure to where healthcare has been and where it’s trying to go.

And we, we, we really feel that this pivot. To, uh, what’s known in the community as the Medical Mile is gonna Yeah. Allow us to, uh, continue to run

[00:22:49] Phil Tower: that course and quite a transformation. Because when you and I were here 40 years ago, this was Furniture City. Yeah. And now it’s medical innovation. It’s, it’s, as you’ve.

It’s a Silicon Valley of just so much technical. Yeah, I like to say synergy. It’s, it is just amazing. And as you look at that, I mean, you guys, 21 plus years, you’ve got 27 Fortune 500 clients, 60 team members. Uh, the future looks pretty bright with that move to Grand Rapids. We’re

[00:23:22] Bob Niemiec: excited and I think, you know, speaking on behalf of the community to see we need great manufacturing.

In our state and in West Michigan. Right. But we also need more knowledge minded workers too. So how do we, how do we create ecosystem in Grand Rapids? That’s a draw, not just for those who are constructing something. But for those who are writing an algorithm, that is gonna create a new experience that changes lives in healthcare, right?

We need the power of those two running together in order to, uh, continue to see Michigan and this region make the global impact that it has.

[00:24:06] Phil Tower: I really hope as I’m hearing you talk, I feel really honored to be hearing you in this passion for what you do. I hope every parent listening to this who has a high school or college age child, young adult, will share this with them because you need to hear this.

This is where your brain and their brains. Really, the world is going and it’s really dynamic. Bob, I, I could do this for another half hour. We’re, we’re coasting near the end here. Uh, we’ve covered a lot of ground. Is there anything we didn’t talk about? Anything you’d just like to share with our listeners before we

[00:24:40] Bob Niemiec: wrap this up?

Oh, I appreciate the opportunity. I have to give a shout out to any of my teammates if they’re listening to this. I just wanna say thank you, thank you, thank you for all that you do to move our business forward. You know, as I’ve shared with, uh, some, you know, our, our previous 20 years have been great, a great blessing.

But, uh, as we look forward to the next 20 and the impact that we’re positioning ourselves to make, um, we’re, I’ve never been more excited for what lies ahead for our firm and for, uh, the great city of grand.

[00:25:21] Phil Tower: You can learn more about these guys and a little bit more about that voice you just heard. Bob Neek, Managing Partner Twist Think twist

They’ve got a really cool website and, um, Are you hiring? You have opportunities.

[00:25:35] Bob Niemiec: Oh, we’re hiring. So yeah. Send a resume, make a phone call, call me. Um, we are, uh, we are running for growth.

[00:25:45] Phil Tower: And if you happen to be a Michigan Tech or a Uve grad, that doesn’t hurt. No. Either I or msu or, or msu. We can’t

[00:25:53] Bob Niemiec: leave or Grand Valley Orkel.

I mean, we, we have ’em all embedded in our team. Yes.

[00:25:57] Phil Tower: Uh, degree agnostic. We’ll call that . We, um, I’ve really enjoyed this. Thank you so much for sharing your story twist think story again, twist Bob Neic is the managing partner of Twist Think since 2001. Can you tell he loves what he does? Indeed.

Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you so much. He’s been our guest in this edition of CEOs You Should Know from iHeart Radio on Phil Tower. Thank you so much for listening.






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